SUSAN WILLIAMS Commentary: Simon redesign is something to celebrate

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Commentary Simon redesign is something to celebrate

What a nice way to start 2005, with a new, improved design of the Simon headquarters. At the start of a new year, it seems appropriate to reflect. The chain of events that led to the redesign of this important building marks a turning point in the “coming of age” of our city and its approach to the built environment.

Urban design and design criteria for our downtown have been topics of discussion for decades. Yet there was never the political will to move that discussion forward in a meaningful way. We traveled to New York and Chicago and other great cities, marveled at the palette of remarkable architecture and wondered why we didn’t attract that level of design in Indianapolis. Yet at home, such discussion was generally unwelcome.

Until recently, we were so eager for downtown development that the city fathers were fearful design discussions would scare off development. So we accepted most anything that came down the pike. Few dared voice critical opinion of the original atrocious design of Circle Centre mall. Fortunately, the historic preservation guidelines that drove certain funding components gave the preservation community the leverage (decried at the time) that ultimately affected the mall design. The improvement was remarkable.

Most recently, city and civic leaders were understandably eager to keep the Simon headquarters downtown. In this instance, however, there was open dialogue about the design. What has changed? Legitimate constructive criticism appeared in print. Both IBJ and The Indianapolis Star examined urban-design issues. The community dialogue led to the willingness of the developer to rethink what was being dropped onto the corner of Washington Street and Capitol Avenue.

The willingness of the print media to “host” the discussion about design elevates awareness about design and allows the community to set new standards. I suspect it wasn’t particularly gratifying for the Simon leadership to read expressions of disappointment in what was proposed. Having the design of their corporate headquarters described as “bland,” “mediocre,” “inappropriately suburban” or “not reflective of their strong corporate image” obviously got the attention of the right individuals.

In what must have been a Herculean effort, they redesigned the plane while in flight, so to speak. The project was far enough along that the original footprint needed to remain, but what a wonderful new “skin” was conceived for this structure. The corner will be properly addressed and pay appropriate tribute to our “Main Street” (Washington Street) and our beautiful state Capitol; the plaza

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and park space will be welcoming and vibrant. Visitors viewing the building from the convention center will see a structure that evokes the feel of an important corporate headquarters.

Once again, the talent to deliver the design of this project resides here at home. The work of the out-of-state architect was set aside. It continues to amaze me that developers, businesses and universities still think they have to go out of state to find an architect. Look around-the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Urban League headquarters, Emmis Communications Corp. headquarters, the wonderful new neighborhood libraries and now the Simon headquarters, all designed by local architects.

Congratulations to the Simon organization for listening and responding. We look forward to celebrating the opening of your fine new downtown headquarters. And congratulations to IBJ and the Star for creating a forum where design criticism has been transformed from perceived “obstructionism” to constructive community dialogue. We have just witnessed stunning evidence of what that means to our community.

Happy new year!

Williams is the former executive director of the State Office Building Commission and a former longtime member of the City-County Council. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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